Worst Washington, D.C., Contractors of 2010
Alpine Outdoor Construction | Laurel, Md.
In October, a grand jury indicted James E. Smith, formerly licensed as Alpine Outdoor Construction, on 14 criminal counts, including felony theft, contracting without a license and identity theft. Virginia authorities say Smith continued to work after losing his license. "He would use the license numbers of other contractors to enter into contracts," says Doyle Niemann, assistant state's attorney for Prince George's County.
The case is pending.
Alpine also has numerous civil judgments against it. Steve Smitson, executive director of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, says his office revoked Smith's license because his poor workmanship and incomplete jobs required the state to pay $100,000 from the guaranty fund. "He got to the point where he was taking deposits and not doing work," Smitson says.
He says Smith, 40, scammed at least 40 homeowners, accepting deposits of more than $11,000 from some, and never completing work. The company is not yet rated on Angie's List, but a notice has been added to alert members to the indictment. Smith's attorney, Steven Periconi, didn't return calls for comment.
JD Granite Countertops | Chantilly, Va.
JD Granite owner Jamin Oliva-Madrid ran a countertop installation in Chantilly, but he also operated another business through the same office - drug trafficking throughout the region. In October, a jury convicted Oliva-Madrid, 30, in federal court of conspiring to distribute cocaine. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced this month. Twelve of Oliva-Madrid's associates pleaded guilty, another was found guilty, and two more await trial.
Authorities say Oliva-Madrid used his business as a front to store drugs. Conspirators used home-improvement terms such as "paint," "kitchen" and "black galaxy" - a type of granite - to refer to cocaine, according to the U.S. attorney's office. A notice alerts members to his conviction.
JD Granite has been licensed as a Virginia contractor since 2007, with no complaints on record. The company received a negative report from Sonja Wells, who says she paid JD Granite more than $1,700 in advance for countertops that were never delivered. She says she's filing suit to recover her money.
Oliva-Madrid's attorney, Due Hau Tranh, says no one's questioned whether JD Granite does good work. "The only real question was whether he was part of the [drug trafficking] conspiracy," he says.
Custom Creation Landscapes/ Cutting Edge Landscaping | Manassas, Va.
This report on Custom Creation Landscapes was updated on June 16, 2011.
Angie’s List member Robert Girouard of Oak Hill, Va., says he paid Richard Ryals, owner of Custom Creation Landscapes in Manassas, Va., $800 in August for a landscaping and mulching job. Ryals’ crew abandoned the job after only a few hours, and Ryals failed to return his calls requesting a refund.
“He collects your money, he oversells his abilities, and he’s always behind on paying his workers,” Girouard says.
Ryals claimed to be licensed and even showed Girouard paperwork, but it was a local business license rather than the state contractor’s license required for landscapers. “I should have looked at it more carefully,” Girouard says.
After leaving behind a trail of unfinished work, unreturned deposits and disgruntled homeowners, justice caught up with Ryals. Earlier this year, he was found guilty of first-degree misdemeanors in Prince William and Loudoun counties for operating without a license or misrepresenting a license.
Loudoun County fined him $2,500, which he’s failed to pay, and Prince William County issued a 60-day suspended jail sentence. Fairfax County officials arrested Ryals in February for unlicensed contracting, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. He pleaded no contest and was scheduled to face sentencing June 16, according to Fairfax County public affairs officer Brian Worthy.
Ryals, who’s free on bond, claims he didn’t plead no contest, but wouldn’t elaborate. He confirmed the other convictions and says he’s trying to make things right. “We’re working with everyone,” he told Angie’s List Magazine.
Custom Creation’s record on Angie’s List—one of the worst in the Washington, D.C., market—includes 11 F reports, four D reports and no positive reviews.
Ryals once operated under another name — Cutting Edge Landscaping. The state Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation revoked that company’s license in 2009 after numerous complaints of shoddy or incomplete work. Cutting Edge declared bankruptcy, claiming nearly $300,000 in unsecured debts and no funds to pay them. The bankruptcy case closed with no debts paid.
Matthew Donovan of Fairfax Station, Va., says he paid Ryals $10,500 in August for drain pipe installation and landscaping that Ryals never completed. “He moved some bushes, dug up the backyard, and I never heard from him again,” Donovan says.
Afterward, Donovan joined Angie’s List to check out Ryals’ record. “We suspected he’d taken us for a ride,” he says. “From start to finish, it was the worst experience of my life.”
— by Paul F.P. Pogue